Funny how a horse sticks in your mind and becomes a hero. Usually they are a Champion and you follow them religiously. My hero was a‘Near Champion’ and I loved him…his name SHAFTESBURY AVENUE.
By Salieri from the Imported Mare Lady Upstage, I stumbled across him one Wednesday in August 1989. I had snuck into the Melton TAB at lunchtime to watch a few races when I noticed a first starter in the next at Rosehill by one of my favourite stallions, Salieri. The fact he was trained by JB Cummings only increased my interest. I had a little dabble at the nice odds of $14 despite the wide barrier draw. A little slow away, Shaftesbury made ground through the field steadily before jockey John Marshall pressed the button and the big Chestnut went bang and won easily. Next start he won a Saturday race then was close up 2nd in the Brian Crowley over 1200m, a Listed Race. He then ran 3rd inthe Stan Fox at Gr 3 Level before a spell.
Shaftesbury Avenue was a ‘spruik’ horse in the Autumn of 1990. Bart openly declared him a Group 1 horse but his time winning at the top level would have to wait. After opening his Autumn campaign with a win in the Gr 3 Royal Sovereign Stakes, he then comfortably won the Gr 2 Hobartville Stakes. Next up was the Gr 1 Canterbury Guineas and after a chequered run, Shaftesbury Avenue flashed home and ran 2nd. After a lacklustre run on a Heavy 10, Shaftesbury Avenue was a $9 chance in the Doncaster. Here he would begin his personal war with future great Super Impose. The older and stronger Super Impose would win the day and start the incredible Double Double of the Doncaster and Epsom Double 2 years running. More about the rivalry later. Unfortunately Shaftesbury struck a Heavy 10 again in the All Aged and managed his 3rd Gr 1 2nd placing of the Autumn. He then went to Brisbane for the Doomben 10,000 but ran unplaced and went for a spell.
4 year old:
The big chestnut really filled out during his break and returned with 2 easy wins in the Spring. His next outing was the Group 1 George Main Stakes at Randwick over 1600m. Super Impose would also be there, but Shaftesbury Avenue would break his Group 1 ‘duck’ with Super running 2nd. After 2 uncharacteristically poor runs, Bart switched Shaftesbury to Melbourne and he lined up in the Gr 1 Honda Stakes at Flemington. The big fella was right on song and he easily dispatched a handy field to win his 2nd Gr 1.
Bart set Shaftesbury for the 1000m Lightning Stakes first up. This established ‘Miler’ was up against 8 of the fastest sprinters in the land. My enduring memory of Shaftesbury Avenue was this race. Slow away from barrier 9, jockey Jim Cassidy positioned Shaftesbury Avenue on the fence at the tail. Inside the 400m, still last and 6 lengths from the lead, Shaftesbury made his move. Cassidy moved him one off the fence and he charged but there was nowhere to go. The big horse was climbing over them and seemed destined to be a certainty beaten. With 50m to go Cassidy pushed left and miraculously found a gap and the big horse exploded through to win in the blistering time of 57.4secs. Next up, carrying 58kgs he won the Newmarket Hcp. He’d gone from one of Australia’s best Milers to the Best Sprinter in the Land! Back to Sydney for the Doncaster and another clash with Super. Although running well, he could do no better than 3rd as Super won again. They clashed again a week later in the All Aged but this time it was Shaftesbury who won. What a memorable Autumn it had been for the Big Red Star.
If his 4 year old exploits were impressive what Bart asked him to do as a 5yo was staggering. Bart declared that Shaftesbury Avenue (the 1000m Lightning Winner) would be set for the Cox Plate (2050m) and the Japan Cup (2400m). Any other trainer you would scoff but with Bart, who knows…maybe he could? After a couple of warm up runs, Shaftesbury opened his Spring account in the WFA Caulfield Stakes over 2000m beating Super Impose and Sydeston. Next was the Cox Plate and Shaftesbury was a short $1.50 favourite. Going out of the straight the first time he slipped and nearly fell and that was that, he finished a disappointing 12th. Bart forged ahead with plans to run in Japan and gave him one more run in the Honda before leaving for Tokyo. Given an easy time, he gave the winner 11.5kgs when running a closing 2nd. Bart decided to ride Shaftesbury from behind in Japan as he feared he wouldn’t stay the 2400m. In a rare ‘error’, the tactics cost him the race. Last on the turn, Shaftesbury met trouble 3 times in the straight before charging home to finish a close 3rd…a certainty beaten. He returned in the Autumn and won 1st up but sadly broke down and would never race again.
Rivalry with Super:
Incredibly, Shaftesbury Avenue and Super Impose would meet 9 times. Super won ALL 4 Handicaps they met in and Shaftesbury won 4 of the 5 WFA races they ran in. They actually won 4 each…incredible.
Shaftesbury Avenue Raced 28 Times for 13 Wins and 8 Placings.
He won 6 Group 1 Races ranging from 1000m to 2000m.
Stable Rider Joe Agrester summed up Shaftesbury Avenue when he remarked ‘There were four champions I rode for the Bart Cummings – Let’s Elope, Saintly, So You Think, and Shaftesbury Avenue’.
Until next week…good punting.
By Rick Wells 21st June 2017